Your Health Matters exists to encourage people of all ages to take incremental steps to a healthier lifestyle. Our coverage of health issues affecting African Americans has evolved over the past 23 years. Additionally, many health concerns that are of particular prevalence among black folk are also issues for other groups – enrolling for health insurance coverage, cardiovascular, mental, behavioral, dental and sexual health, diabetes, obesity, asthma, healthy mothers, babies; giving up smoking, and exercise and healthier lifestyles to prevent disease.
It began as Health Watch, the brainchild of a diverse group of doctors, community health professionals, academicians and American staff, including the late Ed Heins, Kevin Jones, chief operating officer, and Donald M. Suggs, who for many years served the community in a dual capacity as an oral surgeon and as a newspaper publisher.
“We are providing a forum where the issues can be discussed: race-based health,” Dr. Suggs said.
The first Health Watch insert was published in The American on July 25, 1995. It started as a monthly special insert, and later became a twice-a-month publication to what it is today – a regular section of the paper.
Will Ross, M.D., associate dean for Diversity at Washington University School of Medicine, was the first consultant overseeing content for Health Watch, a responsibility he undertook many years.
“This was an ideal opportunity to craft health messages and pertinent health materials that were based on community health assessments, written in a culturally competent manner, and delivered by leading African American medical professionals,” Dr. Ross said. “Dr. Suggs and I strongly believed that health communications would be more valid and credible if it were linked to respected and highly visible medical professionals.”
Early editions focused on health promotional topics for prevention, disease management and wellness, such as diabetes, exercising, cardiovascular health, sickle cell testing as well as national health topics of the day. Leaders in the medical and dental health profession as well as prospects for a vocation in health and medicine were also highlighted.
Health coverage was well-received by American readers. However, in order for better target health messaging, Health Watch needed to connect more with its target audience. The health advisors re-strategized, prioritized and strengthened Health Watch through collaborations with key community leaders and public health advisors with a proven track record in health promotions. Ross said particularly helpful advice and support came from Dr. Jacquelyn Garrett, then president of Mound City Medical Forum and Ed Fisher, who at the time worked with the Division of Health Behavior Research at Washington University.
“By 2002, Health Watch matured into Health Matters and had become the most recognized source of health news and personal health messages for the African American Community,” Dr. Ross said.
It was also the time Dr. Ross passed the baton as health consultant to Dr. Katherine Matthews for a couple of years. Matthews also helped with initial funding for the health coverage.
“The positive reaction and the positive response we got from Health Matters actually directly led us starting a Salute to Excellence in Health Care event every year,” Jones said. “We wanted to focus on African American health care workers and encourage African Americans to go for a position in health care.” The program has been in place for 18 years, honoring outstanding lifetime achievers, stellar performers and other awardees in the health profession.
In 2003, internal, geriatric medicine and nutritional science specialist Consuelo H. Wilkins, M.D. joined The American’s Health Advisory Board and her role with the paper expanded while she served as president of the Mound City Medical Forum. Over the next few years, Dr. Wilkins worked closely with the editorial team to regularly contribute relevant, up-to-date health information while increasing the visibility of the nearly 200 African American physicians in the St. Louis area. Dr. Wilkins contributed to a regular column focused on issues relating to health policy and health disparities. In 2007, Dr. Wilkins was appointed the health/medical editor.
“This was an exciting time because The American was in the process of revising the Health Matters format and content in response to input from readers through focus groups and surveys,” Dr. Wilkins said. “It was clear from readers that Health Matters was a valuable, reliable and well-respected source of health information, but readers wanted more personal content and stories from real people.”
Health Watch becomes Your Health Matters
Dina Suggs, senior vice president of The American and Debbie Chase, then director of health strategy and outreach, were part of the team who re-engineered Health Matters. It showcased more personal health stories written by a dedicated health journalist and with more vibrant covers and photos, and to include connections to local health resources.
In October 2007, with funding support by the Missouri Foundation for Health, the special section became Your Health Matters, with award-winning journalist Sandra Jordan as its first full-time health reporter.
“Men and women who share their real-life personal health journey are very special indeed, and talking about how they manage or address those conditions can be empowering for them and encouraging to others who may find themselves in a similar situation,” Jordan said. “What has been most rewarding is when someone says, ‘I read this in The American, and I saved it,’ or ‘used it in my classroom,’ or “I went to see the doctor,’ or ‘I put down the salt shaker’ or ‘I found a way to exercise.’”
Your Health Matters was published twice per month instead of monthly. In addition to medical topics, it has featured health careers, healthy recipes provided by community partner Food Outreach.
Again in response to readers, The American expanded its health communications beyond print and digital and reached into the community.
In partnership with STL TV, three- to five-minute videos were produced monthly featuring Wilkins that highlighted a topic in Your Health Matters. The videos were linked to The American’s website, www.stlamerican.com. Wilkins served as health editor until May 2012.
“My experiences working with The American team and communicating with the readers have been highly rewarding and have significantly shaped my approach to communication,” Wilkins said.
Also in 2012, SLUCare family practitioner Denise Hooks-Anderson, M.D. became the medical accuracy editor for Your Health Matters. She is also a former president of Mound City Medical and her expertise and valued personable approach has been received well.
“Over the years, I have been pleasantly surprised at the number of people who stop me and say how much they have enjoyed the articles and columns in The American. My patients have even referenced some of my recommendations, such as eating five servings of fruits and vegetables or de-stigmatizing mental health issues,” Dr. Hooks-Anderson said. “As a writer, it gives me much joy to know that we are doing something meaningful to impact our communities. I am deeply honored to be a part of such an amazing team.”
Your Health Matters has earned several local and national awards for health coverage and advertising, including the A. Philip Randolph MillerCoors Messenger Award honors through the National Newspaper Publisher Association; media awards from The American Cancer Society Great Plains Division; Suburban Newspapers Association; the Standing Up for Mothers and Babies Award from the Maternal Infant Child and Families Coalition, and from The Empowerment Network of prostate cancer survivors and advocates.
“At this point, among leading newspapers in the country, African American or mainstream, there are no other similar publications that deliver high quality, up-to-date health information on such a frequent publication basis,” Dr. Ross added. “Nor are there other periodicals that have embedded culturally competent health messages that address health literacy while highlighting local stories with powerful images of empowered African Americans engaging in health prevention and chronic disease management.”
In 2015, Your Health Matters moved from a twice-a-month insert to a weekly regular section in the newspaper. Dr. Ross summed up its importance and impact in the St. Louis community.
“Your Health Matters … is now a major player in our community-engaged, multidisciplinary approaches to addressing and resolving intractable health disparities in the St. Louis region,” said Dr. Ross. “I am proud to have been involved in such a far-reaching project.
Thanks to the leadership and vision of Dr. Suggs, Your Health Matters will be influencing the health of our community for generations.”